Friday, July 30, 2010

Butch Makes Lemonade (1)

The voicemail took three rambling, drawling minutes to say "A boulder crashed onto my hand and I can't go to the Bugs." Loreen, after a heli-rescue off Serratus, was out, at which point I started getting superstitious. Last year's partner-to-be, the good Mr Holgate, injured an ankle. Wanna get fucked up? Make climbing plans with Butch. Well, that's what Napoleon would-- and did-- say, after spraying about how he had done an aid climbing course with not just any old person, but with NameDrop, in this case Matt Maddaloni.

So I ended up in Golden, shopping like a Korean girl enjoying her last day ever on Robson Street. I bought Landjaeger sausages (the alpinist's power-bar), and of course granola bars (the suburban man's alpinist food). I bought a Stieg Larsson novel about the political failure of Swedish socialism, err I mean, about a bunch of pimps and perverts and murderers, and I bought a guide's tarp. This last I got mainly because I was too lazy to haul a tent all the thousand meters up to Applebee, and cos it made me feel, if I have this, I will consider trying All Along The Watchtower, which is 12-, 34 pitches, and majorly bad-ass.

As I arrived, muffler intact, at the porcupine lot, I had an Indian Creek flashback, set off by the assembled hordes of Colorado SUVs, one of which had an enormous grinning penis etched into its muddy back window. The symbolic import of this penis escaped me. I humped my to-me epic pack up to Applebee, and promptly turned into a climbing mendicant. I wandered the campground like the ghost of a long-dead soul, begging for a climbing partner.

This was a convenient way to scope out the whole campground close-up...and what a mix of people there were! First up were the Koreans, who were working some massive aid line, siege-style, beside the Beckey-Mather route on the east side of Snowpatch. You could tell the Koreans were in fact Korean, and not (God forbid) Japanese or some other inscrutable ethnicity, from the massive stacks of Spam tins, their shiny new haul-bags and other gear, their radio station, and the occasional blast of kim-chi that spread like a stealthy mixture of ninja and giardia fart through the campground.

Beside them were a cluster of long-haired smokers who were obviously Spanish. French smoke too but they go for shorter hair and they don't do the alpine, being pussies and all. Oh wait, that was the Iraq war. Oops, sorry to all the hot French women I have seen over the years, puffing on a cigarette, and saying "I weel climb zees roooote, I sink iss fife zirteen, fife fourteen, somesimg like zat, of course I don't know" then actually sending it.

The Colorado flashbacks came thick and fast. I found a spot to throw down my tarp and my Stieg Larsson novel (both about the same size) and heard a donkey-like braying.

"Yeah, uh--huhh, we decided that we wouldn't get on the Watchtower, there were some clouds in the morning" sprayed one. Now if you are going to announce how bad-assed you are (Watchtower) you generally don't want to appear frightened by a few hours' worth of cumulonimbal tomfoolery, which is standard fare in the Bugs. The three sprayers stood around like a bad imitation of John Long, Jim Bridwell and Billy Westbay after firing the Nose in a day in 1973 (now THAT is majorly bad-assed...imagine how many cigarettes Bridwell must have needed to keep his shit together on that one, and what a logistical nightmare it would have been to haul all them smokes, and keep The Bird adequately stoked at all moments).

Then there were a pair of Russians, da priviert, and a Yankee couple who shared what appeared to be a one-man cycling tent. Oooh-la-la, they are either in total lust, or seriously retarded, how the f&^+$$? could two people sleep in something that looked like a bivvy sack with an aluminum hard-on? There were four medical professionals from Chicago, who (loudly...what IS it with Americans in climbing campgrounds?) discussed I.N.T. insertkions, standards of care, and how the thing they were eating looked something that had recently come out of one of their patients' anuses.

Anyway I ran into five groups of three, all of whom said "naw we're OK, we don't need a fourth" which drove me nuts...why would you want to climb in three? Ridiculously slow, etc. I decided it must have been one of three things that was preventing me from finding a partner: I had not shaved for three days, or cut my hair for two months, so I looked like a red-neck version of John Lennon; I had not adequately sprayed to Coloradan standards how bad-assed I was (or wanted to be); or I was not a nubile 24-year-old girl.

So I went to bed and a moon of Falstavian immensity bellied up to the horizon and encouraged me to have irrational dreams of foolith things, like freesoloing. As the moon etched the Spires against the pale white night sky I fell asleep, and was at three A.M. awakened by hordes of climbers hissing with stoves and clattering with crampons, getting the good old alpine start.

When I awoke the campground was deserted except for a lone yogini and a Korean reading. I drank as much coffee as I could, and when I could no longer sit still, I said "fuck it" to myself, stuffed a pair of rock shoes and my 60om half rope into my pack, and headed for the Northeast Ridge of Bugaboo Spire.

i got to the base of the route in about an hour, stuffed my big boots into my pack, and put on the rock shoes. It was noon and above me was a party who were bailing.

"We're too slow," said one, "we started at 3:30 but we should have got up at midnight."

I launched into this route with barely any thought. On the first pitch, I did a slightly awkward reach-around to sink a stonker fingerjam, and then had to do one dicey move off a slightly loose flake before the bomber locks returned. On the third pitch, a rising dyke traverse that crossed the ridgecrest, I locked off with my left fingers, hiked my left foot, and swept my right across what felt like ten feet into a stem, and then, air brushing my ankles, I pulled myself across. I passed five parties on the route. At the summit, a bit of ridge-fuckery led to four or five rappels, and then the scariest part of the route: downwalking the Kain route past party after party of rock-knockers.

I got back to camp at three, made coffee, lit a smoke, and soaked up what I'd just done. My first-ever multi-pitch freesolo. Another of the fifty classics. I wish i could say that I got into some kind of Honnoldian or Croftian zone where everything just flowed, but it wasn't like that. My feet hurt. I had to piss. I wanted a smoke. I got thirsty. I got hot. Above all, I was incredibly breathing hard and had to make myself slow down and take some mental pictures of where I was.

That evening KI cooked up some KD, read some more Stieg, and then did the beggar circuit again. Again, I had no luck. People asked me what I'd done, and I told them "I climbed the N.E. Ridge" and when they asked with whom, I had to say "alone," at which point people either said "that's fucking crazy" or "wow," neither of which reaction was getting me closer to a climbing partner.

The next day I awoke, drank coffee with the Russians until again I couldn't stop myself from vibrating, and finally said "fuck it" and headed off to do Snowpatch. This one is different from the N.E. Ridge in that the crux is the last 3 pitches. I got lost on p4 or so, and found myself doing what felt like 10- stemming about 100m up a beautiful dihedral, pawing at grass in the crack, having forgotten to exit the dihedral to logical ledges. At the Wiessner overhang-- a 15 meter 5.6 hand traverse-- water poured into the horizontal handcrack, but the jams were so good that the fear didn't hit me. Above, I minced my way up slabs and cracks past the massive snowpatch, rested at the Inverted Pear, and then launched into the cruxes.

After about 20m of traversing, I did a 10m 5.7 corner-- perfect hands-- and then a 5.7 undercling, at which point, for the first time, I really noticed how much my ass was hanging out, over the snowpatch and then, a thousand meters down, the talus. Next up was the hand traverse, and finally the dreaded off-width with 5.8 climbing after it. The off-width had huge jugs in it, the 5.8 was bomber crimps and feet, and my only mistake was, at the top of the 5.8, I launched left along the handtraverse. I found myself in a blank, overhanging corner and had to reverse about 10m to the right, after which it was 20m to the summit.

As I sat on my second peak, it was the old cliche that hit me. The thing in climbing you worry about is the next move. You do not worry about falling, being tired, how long the route is, yadda yadda. Sure, you need to think about these things when you plan the day, and you better check your route, weather, etc, when you need to. But really, if you focus on one move at a time, things take care of themselves. Freesoloing clears the brain, much as meditation does, by forcing you to focus on the now. While your tiny, 16 bit-per-second conscious mind is heel-hooking or manteling, it is letting your subconscious do its own thing, and so all of those background things you can't really control, but that bug you, either get forgotten, or re-framed.

I rapped Krauss-McCarthy and was back in camp at four, buzzed out of my mind. It is no wonder that alpine climbing, and freesoloing, get used as metaphors for spiritual enlightenment. As you climb, you see more and more, and when you top out, your sense of "I am awesome!"-ness is tempered with the reality that you are only a tiny part done with the mountains. Bust out the cliches: it's a process, not a goal. A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. My ass is too sweaty.

Most of all, the thing I liked about soloing was, sleep in, sit around, drink coffee, carry almost no weight, and back in camp with enough time to enjoy the sun and yet more coffee.

And then it hit me: I had just done both of the routes that I could reasonably free-solo, so I had better get off my ass and find a partner\. Round three. More later, including a few pictures.

1 comment:

  1. Men I like it, especially the first half and description and blablabla.
    Even if I didnt get the Iraq war, and no french in alpine.

    an upset frenchmen